Woman makes history in F1

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MF1 Racing made a little bit of history at Silverstone by fielding the first female crew member to be directly involved in an F1 pit stop. The lady in question was ITV’s Louise Goodman, who had the job of taking the left rear wheel off Tiago Monteiro’s car at his first pit stop. Fortunately for everyone – especially Tiago – she performed the task like a veteran.

“It’s quite a simple job,” says team manager Andy Stevenson. “But there’s quite a lot of pressure there, and it is possible to get it wrong. But she did a great job, and she looked very excited afterwards. I must say that before the start, I was probably more nervous than she was! In fact, not many people in the team knew she was doing it until shortly before the race, including Tiago…”

As a roving pit reporter, Louise is always looking for good background stories, and working as part of a pit crew was a perfect opportunity to do something different.

‘The idea was to do a piece for ITV, just because we’d never had a member of the crew involved in a pit stop,” she explains. “One of the things we aim to do is get behind the scenes and see how things are done, so this was an opportunity to do that and report back first hand about what it was like to be involved in a pit stop, and also look at some of the things that have to be taken into consideration. It’s not just pulling a tyre off, there’s a lot more going on around you that you have to be aware of, as far as the whole team working as one is concerned.”

There are many different jobs on a pit crew, and while some are more complex or dangerous than others, everybody needs to get their own particular job right. Taking a wheel off was the logical task for Louise to be given.

“Wheel off is the easiest on the car, therefore it was the one I was least likely to mess up! Understandably, for any team to let a novice in is a big ask. I wanted to actually be on the car rather than handing somebody a cloth so they could wipe the driver’s visor – that wouldn’t count for me! But equally, I didn’t want to compromise the team in any way, shape or form.

“Wheel off was the job that was easiest to learn, and being on the rear left position was best from a safety perspective. If the driver does mess up and not hit his mark, it’s the safest place to be, because he’s going to slide forward and in towards the garage.”

Louise was originally going to take her place in the history books with Honda, and had been practising with the team during their regular race weekend drills since the San Marino GP. However, at the last minute Honda management decided against allowing her to take part at Silverstone.

It looked like all that experience would be put to waste, until MF1’s Andy Stevenson stepped in and offered her a second chance. Things moved quickly from there, and she was able to get some priceless extra practice in with her new team during the race weekend.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that this was a homecoming of sorts for Louise, who was Jordan’s press officer from 1992 to 1996, and there are still quite a few faces in the MF1 camp who worked with her before she made the move to TV reporting when ITV took over from the BBC in 1997.

“I was rescued at the last minute by my friends at Midland, who stepped in to help out. I got a very, very nice reception from everybody. They all knew that I worked there in the Jordan days, and they were all incredibly helpful and were willing me to do well. I got a lot of encouragement from all the boys.

“But I was quite surprised at how different it was. You’d think that pulling a wheel off is the same on any car, but it was difficult enough to worry me, in that the first few practises I had with MF1 didn’t happen smoothly at all.

“On the Honda, you had to give it a bit of a wobble, whereas with MF1, it was a very smooth slide off. What made an even bigger difference was that on the M16, the rear wing endplates obstruct the wheel more, so it’s actually a different action to take the wheel off. I was trying to do it the way I’d been doing it during all those months training on the Honda, and I had to change the action.

“What I did, at the suggestion of Andy Stevenson, was go and practice the movement on my own, with one of the mechanics putting the wheel on, and me taking it off. Once I got the knack – which was effectively shoving your elbow on the rear wing endplate and then pushing with your right hand, using your left hand to support the wheel as it came off – it all became quite smooth thereafter.”

The last practice took place on race morning and was picked up live by the TV cameras. Up and down the paddock, people caught a glimpse of a helmeted ‘mechanic’ wearing white skirt and sandals and must have wondered what that was all about!

Louise is not one to get easily flustered – she’s driven rally cars in her own right – but even she admits that when Tiago appeared in the pit lane, her heart was pounding. After all, he had given the team its best qualifying performance of the season, so a mistake would not have gone down well.

“I was a bit nervous standing in the garage before I went out, but once I stepped into the pit lane, I was really concentrating so hard on what I had to do. It all happened a lot slower than I thought it would – I was surprised at the speed of the car as it was coming toward me.

“I think we were helped by the fact that we were the only team standing out front in the second part of the pit lane, so I had a really long, clear view of the car coming in. So it was actually very easy to judge exactly when to step in and what speed he was coming at. After that, it was all over in such a flash, I can’t remember that much about it, other than the fact that it went fine, and the wheel came off very, very cleanly.’

With the job done, Louise punched the air in triumph. But before Christijan Albers’ first stop, she bowed out to leave the job to the regular incumbent, while she got on with her normal pit lane duties.

“I must admit that afterwards I was tremendously elated,” she says. “Obviously, I had my own job to do for ITV, and it was great that the team had been able to get me involved in one stop, so to ask more of them would have been taking the Mickey a bit. But I’d love to do it again, almost just to relive the experience so I can remember it better. Maybe next time, I can try the refuelling!”